August 22nd, 2019

Wrist-Watches and Cracker Jack

By G. E. Shuman

Dear Readers, I cannot tell a lie. I stole this column, from myself. I simply ran out of time to write this week, so am reprinting something that people seemed to like the first time. I hope you do, too.

A few weeks ago I was standing in our kitchen, and happened to notice something about my daughter, when I saw her sitting on the couch in the next room.

“You don’t wear a wrist-watch, huh Em?” I remarked.

“I don’t wear a what?” Emily asked back.

“A wrist-watch,” I repeated.

“Dad, they don’t call them wrist-watches anymore. It’s just a watch, and, no, I don’t wear one.”

“Why not? Don’t you have one?” I asked, in honest ignorance of her point.

“I don’t NEED one. Everyone always has their phone in their hand, and the time is right here,” Emily responded, holding up the electronic appendage which seems to be permanently attached to her palm.

“Oh. Yeah.” Was my only reply, as I was, once again, technologically trounced back into the old realization that mine is not exactly the cutting-edge generation anymore. I looked at my left wrist, and at my watch… my WRIST-watch, wondering if I will see the day when ‘old’ people like myself are actually laughed at for wearing one of these things. I suddenly felt like I was carrying around a spittoon and a buggy whip instead of a watch. Maybe, just maybe, that day is here.

It may have been that very same day, or perhaps a day or so later, that I noticed (I guess I’m noticing things lately.) something familiar and somehow exciting from my own childhood. My wife has recently taken to buying boxes of Cracker Jack, to take to work with her, as a snack. And, that day, right in front of me on a small round table in our kitchen, lay an actual Cracker Jack prize! Do you remember those? For generations Cracker Jack has proudly, (and rightly so) announced ‘A prize in every box!” ON every box of their product. I remember vividly, as a child, ripping the entire top off my Cracker Jack boxes and squeezing the sides to see if I could see that cherished, tea-bag sized white envelope that I knew was buried somewhere among the caramel corn and peanuts. If I saw the prize I would immediately dump out enough of the Cracker Jack to get my fingers far enough into the box to snag the prize and drag it out. (Tell me you have never done that.) Now, everyone knows, and knew then, that whatever prize was inside the envelope had no great value. There was always a blue-ink printed joke to read on the outside, and something less than magical on the inside. To me, as a child, making fun of whatever the little plastic something was that was inside that envelope was half of the fun. Do you remember people saying things like: “Where’d ya get the ring… a box of Cracker Jack?”

I thought of all of this, as I picked up and looked over that genuine Cracker Jack prize envelope. The fact that it was still unopened proved to be too much for me to resist. For the first time in years, I opened a Cracker Jack prize, and, for the first time ever, was quite disappointed. In an effort to please the kids of today, even this has changed. Rather than some chintzy ring or other cheap plastic thing, inside the envelope there was only a note. The note said this: “Now you can download fun, authentic Cracker Jack prizes to your smart phone at” with a website address following. In other words, at least to me, the prize was… well… nothing. It felt the same as when someone gives you a lottery ticket for your birthday. What did they really give you? Nothing. Frankly, I don’t have a smart phone, and would rather have had a dumb toy than a stupid app.

I recently read an article in which the author lamented that, “Modern technology is taking away all of our stuff.” That we no longer need CDs to play our music, or DVDs to play our movies, were his main points. Some people now take virtual vacations, (Gee, those must be fun.) and others completely lose themselves in games, which require no cards, game boards, game pieces, or even other players. I think today’s kids are actually missing out on a few REAL things, as they willingly view virtual ones, displayed on small glass screens, in place of them. One of those real things is the proud feeling of a shiny new watch wrapped around your wrist; another is the joy of holding, instead of a phone, a cheap and cherished Cracker Jack toy, right in the palm of your hand.

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